From the Baptist perspective, we should baptize believers of any age upon a credible profession of faith. The emphasis in these posts is that we should not put a minimum age on baptismal candidates. And the obvious reason is because the Bible never does. Let me speak to the fairly obvious inclusion of children in baptism:
Mark 10.14: “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God.” Paedobaptists wrongly use this verse to argue for infant baptism. Baptists wrongly respond that this passage says nothing about baptism. Yes, it does not say anything explicit about baptism. But it is commanding us to allow children to come to Christ! So the question is “can a child desire to be a follower of Christ?” And if the answer is ‘yes,’ which it is, then we must think about how to help a child rightly respond to that faith.
Acts 2.38-39: “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” Paedobaptists wrongly use this verse to argue for infant baptism. Modern Baptists appear to ignore this verse: instead of “repent and be baptized,” in most Baptist churches it is “pray this prayer” or “walk this aisle.” So sad. The historic Baptist use of this verse seems right: if you or your child or anyone in the world hears the gospel, and desires forgiveness and eternal life, what should they do? Repent and be baptized. It does not get much simpler than that.
Acts 16.31-33: And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household”…and he was baptized at once, he and all his family.” Paedobaptists have then wrongly used all the “household”-type baptisms to assume that infants were included. Baptists have wrongly responded that we cannot assume infants are in these households. But if our understanding of Acts 2 is correct, then every “household”-type baptism in the NT should be understood as ‘everyone in the household who believes in Jesus repents and is baptized.’ It is a fairly simple hermeneutic. The command need not apply to infants, but to anyone who can hear and understand the gospel, including children of many ages.
Granted, much of the way we read these texts is based on our presuppositions and hermeneutics. But that is pretty much always the case. However, the above way of understanding these passages appears to not have to “force infants in” or “force children out” of any of the texts. Our only concern should be “what should a human being do when they hear the gospel and they want to respond in faith?” The biblical answer is ‘repent and be baptized.’
I hope these texts show a rightness to baptizing every believer with a credible profession of faith. Next time let’s look at the urgency of doing so.
This is a post that assumes the Baptist position on baptism. If you are someone who has never understood why some traditions baptize infants, you should read up on that first. I don’t believe you have really understood baptism until you have first wrestled with whether or not you should sprinkle your newborn. Perhaps start here
In my circles, because we believe God commands believers to be baptized, we wrestle with when is the appropriate time to encourage our kids toward baptism. Often our children ask to be baptized, and we are left telling them, “not now.”
Mark Dever, who I consider a virtual mentor, is on record many times as teaching that we should not baptize young children. It is not that he does not think they could become Christians; he believes it is too difficult for the local church to discern real conversion in young children. He has also seen too many times people come to his church, having been “baptized” earlier in life, then realize they only now believe the gospel, and then having to “re”-baptize them.
I TOTALLY understand his concerns. We have members in our church who are extremely mature in the faith who basically have the same approach. But over the next few posts I want to walk through our decision to allow our 8 year old to get baptized last summer. She had just turned 8 at the time. She is the youngest person we have ever baptized at our church. And I am totally open to her not being the youngest ever.
I believe we should baptize believers of any age upon a credible profession of faith.
But because of where we are in church history, there are so many different factors to think through regarding this. But one thing I want to be clear from this first post: Baptists do not believe that only adults should be baptized. If you know a Baptist who speaks like that, they are speaking wrongly about the Baptist position. We do not believe only adults or older children should be baptized. We do not see a minimum age in the Bible. We believe only believers should be baptize, and that all believers should be baptized (Matthew 28.19). It is the implications of “only” and “all” that are very complex in our day and age, but it at least gives us a direction to walk towards. In the next post, let’s first think about some of the biblical data.
Everything in the Christian life is doctrine. Very often Christians equate “doctrine” with “theology.” That makes sense. We have the doctrine of God, doctrine of man, doctrine of Scripture, and so forth. Those are the Bible’s teachings on certain topics. Those doctrines are what we call theology.
But the word “doctrine” is simply the word “teaching.” Therefore, the Bible teaches us what to believe and how to live. The Bible teaches us theology and ethics. The Bible teaches us that God is a Trinity, and that we must worship Him. The Bible teaches us that man is sinful, and that we must confront sinners if we are to call ourselves Christians. The Bible teaches us that the church is God’s “called out” community, and that the church must love one another.
There is no dichotomy between doctrine and ethics, right theology and right living. The Bible teaches us what to believe is right theology, and what to believe is right living (i.e., “I believe God is one, and I believe a man should be faithful to his wife”). It is no wonder Paul would tell Timothy that the Law is meant to confront all who break the law– “lawless and disobedient…ungodly…murderers…sexually immoral…liars…and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine” (1 Tim 1.8-11). Everything in the Christian life is doctrine. God has taught us what to believe about everything that has to do with pleasing Him.
This is why our church has a Statement of Faith (theology) and Church Covenant (ethics). It is the only way we know how to uphold Christian doctrine.
“Let him who has done this be removed from among you…purge the evil person from among you.” (1 Corinthians 5.2, 13)
Christians in our country cannot fathom this, that a church would remove someone from their midst because of sin. There are at least three reasons for this problem:
- They cannot fathom this because they cannot fathom a whole church being “mean.” This just does not sound “nice”! And in their minds, how in the world would anyone want to become a Christian if they heard we were mean to each other like this?
- They cannot fathom this because they have never seen a church that resembles the Corinthian situation. I repeat: if you live in the U.S. (and have not traveled abroad to other churches), you have never seen a church that resembles the Corinthian situation. The only way Paul’s command makes sense is if pretty much everyone who showed up to the Corinthian gathering was a believer, who wanted to be there, and even when there was major conflict, they wanted to be there. And even if they were living in sin, they wanted to be there. And there was no other church up the road (or church on TV) that they could run to if they felt their needs were not met at the Corinthian gathering. “Remove the immoral brother” means the immoral brother needed to be removed; he did not remove himself.
- They cannot fathom this because repentance is so often not at the forefront of gospel preaching. Church discipline makes no sense if repentance is not at the forefront. Because we are all sinners. How can sinners discipline sinners? It makes no sense!
In response: “nice” is not the same as loving. Church membership is the only way to “re-create” a more comparable situation. And we should be very clear that we are not merely sinners in Christ, but repentant sinners. And those who do not repent will not see the Kingdom of God. Do not ignore certain commands just because it is hard to fathom.
I do not blame you if this kind of stuff does not intrigue you, but I never get tired of talking about it. There has been a good series of great writers weighing in on credobaptism vs paedobaptism, and its implications for young children. You should consider skimming through it:
And this may be the best one:
I really do not have much to add. I definitely lean toward Patrick Schreiner’s position. One thing I would say is that a church should probably have more say about whether an individual should get baptized than the individual in question should. We should expect that the local church would be able to discern a person’s life better than the person (whether the individual wants to get baptized or whether the individual is hesitant to get baptized because they are not sure if they are a Christian).
Marvin Olasky, of World Magazine, recently interviewed Mark Dever. Watch the interview here. I am thankful for the way the Lord has used Mark in my life. If nothing else, you should listen from the 18:30 mark. They spend about 15 minutes or so talking about the 9 marks of a healthy church.
I am a Baptist. But I think every Baptistic person should consider becoming a Presbyterian at some point in order to see how strong their arguments are (and then, after seeing counter-arguments, becoming more Scripturally convicted), in order to show respect to their rich history, and even to love them and see how united we really are in the gospel.
To really understand the paedobaptist position, you have to understand that they are not looking for explicit commands that say, “baptize your infants.” In a Presbyterian’s mind, the OT was abundantly clear that infants should be included in the covenant people. They say to Baptists, “where is the command to not baptize infants?” Here are some of the passages that exclude infants from automatic inclusion:
- Jeremiah 31 and Ezekiel 36: Jeremiah prophecies that in the New Covenant, every covenant member will have the law written on their heart and have their sins forgiven. Ezekiel prophecies that they will be sprinkled clean, receive a new heart, and receive God’s Spirit. The point is that God promises to do something for New Covenant members that Old Covenant members could not do on their own. You have to decide what is new about the New Covenant: is it that God does radical things now for New Covenant members, or is it that God will probably do radical things for most New Covenant members?
- Romans 6.3-4 and Galatians 3.27: Paul says “us who have been baptized” and “as many of you who have been baptized.” He appeals to the experience of baptism. Let me just say, you do not have to remember your circumcision in order to know you were circumcised. By contrast, the only way you can know you were baptized as an infant is if somebody told you, and that would make these verses lose a tiny bit of punch. Also, in both passages Paul connects baptism to our union with Christ. He does not just connect them conceptually (which he does), but experientially. You are to think of your baptism as the visible sign that you are– not might be one day– united to Christ.
- Galatians 6.15: Paul contrasts two things– circumcision and “a new creation.” Why? Because Paul thinks covenantally, and the Old Covenant sign is circumcision and the exact parallel is not baptism, but a new heart. There is one way in to either covenant: circumcision for the Old, regeneration for the New.
- 1 Peter 3.21: Peter says “baptism…saves you.” How can he say that and still believe in justification by faith alone? Simply, baptism is “your appeal to God for a good conscience.” Baptism is your “sinners’ prayer.” Baptism is your public profession of faith. If I was a child in the first century hearing Peter’s words here, I would think it odd that Peter excludes me and all my friends my age from the baptism discussion.
- Acts 15.1-35: it is sometimes good to argue from silence. There is a glaring silence about infant baptism in the Jerusalem council. The question at hand was if Gentiles needed to be circumcised. Why not mention that baptism replaced circumcision as the covenant sign? As a Baptist, I say, it’s because it does not replace it in the way regeneration does, and so the question about circumcision is really about whether this is a Jewish religion or not. Presbyterians would say baptism does replace circumcision, but the council is trying to address the heresy of justification by works. Two responses: one, no they are not. They are dealing with Christians in Acts 15. It is naive to say that all those influenced by Judaizers are non-Christians preaching a different gospel (think Galatian churches). Two, talking about baptism would still have ended the debate, if indeed the early church understood that you must baptize infants the way you used to circumcise infants.
In God’s providence, the entire NT was written 20-70 years after the ascension of Christ. Are you telling me, with all the number of children that would be born through those years, with all the Gentile churches with non-Jewish backgrounds mixed in, with the importance of the sacraments, there would not be a single mention of infant baptism?